So if you think “Beyond the Mat” will show our brothers with fake identities as wrestlers all sweaty in the ring, think again. There is a glorious moment when Dean is in the ring but let’s wait on that one for a moment. Some spoilers, but not a play by play review.
The premise is simple. The boys need to get out of the bunker since their research on “The hand of God” has produced “Jack” with a side of “Squat”. The supply of coffee and aspirin is low. Sam has a headache. A famous wrestler of whom Dean is a fan, has died, so Dean convinces Sam to attend the funeral which is nearby. Turns out there have been a series of deaths associated with the traveling wrestling show which consists of wrestlers who are past their prime but still have fans like Dean who show up.
Dean gets to “fangirl” over his favorite wrestler from his childhood forays with Sam and Dad at the matches. Sam somewhat more subtly shows us his “fangirl” side when an older female, former wrestler now manager and announcer walks by. Both brothers fangirl in such a way that is amusing.(Sam seems to have a “thing” for older women( see Clue,Mildred, and of course Ruby who is so much older than Sam when they meet- just my humor here). The interchange between the brothers is charming and so natural. The short coats they sport are just delightful. Dean’s inappropriateness at a funeral is something that Ackles pulls off with charm. Our favorite body guard, Cliff, appears at the wake- It must be Tiny’s twin( Folsom prison Blues). If you have been to a convention, you have seen Cliff as well as how some fans react to the actors.
The wrestling scene: Sam and Dean’s enjoyment is something the viewer rarely sees. What a pleasure. We go down memory lane as Dean brings up how this activity is one that has fond memories of John. The Dad and the son in back quickly remind us of a bittersweet situation in families when Dad’s take kids for an outing to keep them occupied. There is also a dialogue about the wrestlers wandering from town to town, making no money, getting no thanks just because it is the job and then Sam says this is a description of the Winchesters’ life.
The Dad goes to “drain the dragon” in an alley outside the gym where he is killed in typical SPN fashion. SPLAT! The boys turn into FBI agents and investigate. Sam finds a Sumarian sign which points to a soul collector demon. This sign is never mentioned again but the demon who is arranging the deaths comes into play.
Dean investigates the gym. The scene where he lives out his wrestling fantasy is pure physical comedic genius. His denial that he hurts is typical Dean. Words cannot describe this scene. It is screen time worth re-watching, over and over and over. Dean is still a boy at heart- perhaps having his childhood cut short- play is healthy.
This leads Dean to a bar where he buys shots of tequila and puts holy water in the drinks to flush out the demon. None of the wrestlers are demons, but Dean has to drink to keep up with them. The result is a sweet scene where Sam retrieves Dean. Again, Ackles does it justice without going over the top and Padalecki’s reaction as Sam are priceless as he “saves” Dean from the tequila hangover. Who drove to the next destination?
Meanwhile in Hell( always wanted to start a sentence with that one), Crowley is further degraded by Lucifer. How can you not feel for Crowley? Misha’s patting his puppy’s head and smoothing out Mark’s sparse hair is not without humor, but the licking of the floor is a new level of sadism. There is an escape with the help of Simmons.
Crowley reasserts himself, dark coat and all only to be followed by Lucifer. Turns out Simmons the demon is not a fan of Crowley’s and only helped him escape so Lucifer could follow him to a “hand of god” relic. The dialogue about who does a better double cross is a reminder of Crowley’s torture speech to his minions after Abaddon’s removal. Many twists and turns. Just remember the Hand of God item only has one use. It is effective on Lucifer so this is a hint for its power against Amara. Remember the staff of Moses’ when Gabriel first appeared? This artifact is the staff of Aaron. Same vintage. The phallus jokes are expected.
The resolution to episode involves selling one’s soul. Suddenly, we are back at season 3 and Dean’s deal to save Sam. The dialogue about being a good man, looking in the mirror and not liking who you see, and the need to find the win by keeping on keeping on add such gravitas to the episode that the humorous aspect of it drains entirely.
The final scene takes us back to the bunker where Dean flips on the switch as they walk down the staircase. Dean talks about the need to keep grinding so they can win. Determination. Then we find out there is a month’s hiatus.
Enjoyed: My own mental flashbacks to past threads and tropes. Jensen’s physical comedy offset by his pathos in the end. Those short coats on the brothers.
Criticisms: Andrew Dabb and John Bring share the writing. There are two stories going on: CASifer/Crowley and Sam/Dean -Wrestling. It felt like each took one of the story lines and wrote the dialogue for the set of characters. Each set of characters have terrific lines and there are no complaints about the acting. The trick of splicing the two stories together in the editing leads to a choppy episode. While each part stands well on its own, it makes for a difficult view. I am not sure how else it could have been carried off by an editor as the two parts do connect to the whole. There are parallels and intersections between the two stories. Of course, this is supposition by me. I just wonder if it was a split assignment and how it was shared. It is not seamless.
While the fan-girl-Dean is amusing, I hope it is not a criticism of the fans of the actors.It is a bit over the top and yet it was good to see Dean let go a bit. He has been so twisted over Amara. It felt like Sam’s role in this episode was not as vital as Dean’s yet Padalecki pulls off Sam’s awkwardness so well.
If only there had been more Crowley being Crowley. Sure that will come. I know time limitations. Wonder what’s on the editing floor?
In total, it is a good episode with interesting referrals to the past and a glimpse into Dean and Sam’s heads if they were not hunters and just fans of a sport. It also shows how determined the Winchesters are to “Grind it out” in order to win one. The episode is a lesson for the Winchesters to keep on grinding it out just the way the writers continue to write the episodes and the network halts us with a hiatus. Sure we will rush to the end of the season in March.
So I rate parts of it as genius and other sections as meh moments. Overall the enjoy-ability level is high. The actors went beyond the lines and go to the Mat on this one.
Red eyes and puppy show complete the episode. Lots of puppy chow for some!